Faith, Reason and Imagination

In ‘Faith, Reason and Imagination’ John Milbank outlines the impetus for John MilbankNottingham’s up and coming Theology, Philosophy and Literature program to begin in the academic calendar year 09/10. According to Allison Milbank, via email correspondence, the inchoate program has emerged from John’s visits to the States and his encounter with more holistic grad programs. Not unlike his stance in Theology and Social Theory, Milbank argues that theology, through modernity, became a discipline that was separated form secular studies with the presumption that reason and revelation should remain in autonomous fields in western academia. This has slowly undergone change as education has increasingly become eclectic with the inclusion of art and literature; i.e., liberal arts degrees. This, in Milbank’s estimation, is a well needed correction since Christianity had previously integrated philosophic reflection with biblical studies (we can affirm humanities/humanity because God has been incarnate). The specific goal of the program is therefore to elucidate the ways in whihc theology and philosophy within literature avoided a lot of the hang-ups of the Enlightenment.

As to ‘philosophical theology’, it is a wholly redundant term: all Christian doctrina is involved in discursive reflection which appeals to traditions of philosophical reflection

His point being that philosophy is an integral and inherent part of theology and a supplement or additive. More specifically, it moves beyond classic philosophical theology which presumed that philosophy was superior to theology because natural reason is prioritized over revelation – representative of German idealism. What Milbank is arguing for is no more autonomy in the modern sense; the legacy given to us from Scotus to Banez who ceded philosophy a neutral sphere by assuming that human beings are sufficient reasoning beings without grace. Milbank argues that philosophy has always been theological, at times atheological, so we are simply reasserting the voice we have withheld.

The confluence of philosophy and theology is sparked by the admittance that it is erroneous to think that we have access to divine intellect which bypasses all need for philosophy.

Instead theology, whenever it intimates the heights, must humbly return to the depths and forever in time start all over again with relatively prosaic problems posed by philosophy

Our intellect is God given and theology enhances it – makes the world cohere. We need cultural mediation to the divine/metaphysical. We recognize the divine in the flux of creation, rather than in spite of it. As a typological strategy for this integration Milbank proposes imagination as the bridge between spirit and matter: (1) imagination as that which interprets (understands and explains) reality and (2) imagination as that which modifies. In summary, Milbank’s proposal for a ‘Theology, Philosophy and Literature’ program is to reveal the importance of reintegrating philosophy and theology by showing the problems with modern philosophy derivative of the separation briefly describe above. Ultimately to realize that literature and history and both part of faith; both are imaginative: Milbanks catch-all world for faith and reason.

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3 responses to “Faith, Reason and Imagination”

  1. Aaron says :

    What would you say to that the old Protestant axiom of Sola Scriptura ultimately bringing creativity to its impasse? The assertion of ‘Scripture Alone’ in its plainest form discourages any method of one’s own invention while nevertheless requiring some method, even of the crudest and weakest understanding of that scripture.

    I hardily agree for creativity and the questions of philosophy, but modern day Protestants on a grand scale would not compound easily. One problem that already exists (if you can call it just one) is that since Luther, non-catholics have splintered listly into the smallest, most isolated of brand new churches. I believe the cause to be what I mentioned in the first paragraph– an attempt to ingest scripture free of the terms of culture and tradition, but an inevitable regression to those terms based on, of course, an individual understanding.

    Another problem is rethinking just _how_ one’s understanding is informed. Considering the Sola Scriptura impasse by itself, perhaps the splinter issue I mentioned in the last paragraph would not be so pervasive were it not for another Reformation favourite, Sola Christus. Christ alone being the highest authority for the common man to invoke in matters of Christian formation elevates the ‘common priesthood’ to an exegetical level that provokes chaos in a house of worship. It would require empiricism to impart this to the now many generations divided leaders, but that is, of course, Ichabod.

    I’d like to be more upbeat about the future of adenominational theology, and especially creativity there, but I don’t want you to hear me regress into the Catholic stalwart position I sometimes maintain, much to the appeal of my creative side. I’ll just suggest the goal is to be unified, these are my thoughts, and I like what I read from you today. Cheers!

    • Matt Cullen-Meyer says :

      I think that what makes the church distinct is its vulnerability and ecumenicity. In other words, its ability to harmonize and reconcile differences.

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